Two years on, Cawston area erosion still causing concern

Sumac Road first started eroding after a 2018 flood

Steve Venables stands on the edge of his street and gazes down at the river below. He has watched the road erode for years, but its state has him and his family worried.

In 2018, a combination of spring melt and a large flood caused part of the bank on Sumac Road to slide into the Similkameen River. Over time, the problem has gradually worsened.

Making their home at the end of the dead end road just off the Crowsnest Highway between Keremeos and Osoyoos are 10 people, six adults and six school children. If the road did give way completely, the people who live there would be cut off.

Venables has lived in the Cawston area since the flood of 1972, and his current property on Sumac Road since 1977. When he first bought it, there was nothing on the little dirt road aside from a few homes at the end. Over time he and his family developed their property into a successful business, Forbidden Fruit Winery.

When he moved there, he never anticipated the erosion issue would become as bad as it has.

There are several wineries on Sumac Road, which caused an increase in traffic as they grew in popularity. The road, once gravel, has since been paved.

About four years ago, runoff weakened the banks near the end of the public road. In 2018, the flooding eroded the already weakened bank and left a roughly 15 metre drop to the river’s edge.

“In the long term, I never thought that the parameters of the paved road would create its own little runoff, above the river, to weaken the bank, but it did. And that’s hindsight now,” said Venables.

“The original road was washed out or collapsed under the bank,” he added. “Now it’s going on almost two years and it’s – it really has not stabilized.”

Shortly after the 2018 flood, Venables recalls the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) moving the road over, repaving, correcting the slope of the road and erecting signs to warn travellers of the eroded bank. Venables thanks them for this, but admitted it’s only a matter of time before the bank erodes even further.

It was about five years ago that Venables and his family started to notice the erosion issue. During spring melt, water would travel down the mountain above, travel across the road and cut away at the edge. Some attempts by the Ministry to install culverts proved unsuccessful, and were washed out.

“They have to stabilize from below, so that it just doesn’t keep creeping back,” Venables said.

Venables admitted he’s not an expert, but believes there must be a permanent solution. He said eventually, if they keep moving the road over, they’re going to run out of space.

When the bank started to collapse in 2018, Venables’ main concern was safety. Today, his biggest concern continues to be the safety of the people living on the road. The increased traffic during the summer is also a concern to him.

“They (Ministry) were coming down all the time looking at it and saying ‘oh, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine’ and I said well, that’s nice for you to say that but I have grandchildren that are driving to school. It’s the human factor that’s my biggest concern, that eventually it’s going to get to the point where it’s no longer safe.

“It’s fine right now, but it just — the erosion doesn’t stop.”

Venables added he and his family appreciate the work the Ministry has been doing in terms of monitoring the bank and upgrading it over time.

“I’m not here to drag them through the mud or anything, we just want to bring the issue up so that it doesn’t just get lost,” he said.

“It’s kind of like – it comes in three’s,” he added. “We had fires, we had flood and now we have falling banks.”

MOTI says they are aware of the erosion issues at Sumac Rd., and is monitoring the road while looking to determine the best course of action to mitigate future damages.

A Ministry spokesperson explained they plan on conducting further geotechnical and hydrotechnical assessments prior to the upcoming spring thaw to help identify options to reduce the chance of damage due to potential future flooding.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

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